The agriculture sector is facing significant challenges as it looks to the future. Approximately one in nine people on earth don’t have enough food to live healthy lives, and the world’s population is expected to grow from around 7.5 billion to almost 10 billion by 2050. Natural resources are already stressed, and climate change is threatening to worsen environmental challenges.

All of this means that the agriculture industry will need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 while reducing resource use and emissions. This will be no easy task, but technology could make it much more feasible.

Various advanced technologies are poised to help the agriculture sector meet the rising demand for food and to disrupt the industry. Here are some of the advancements with the most disruption potential.

1. Sensors

New advanced sensing tech is being integrated into nearly all aspects of agriculture. Many of the other technologies listed in this article use these sensors to collect the data they provide to farmers. This data can help farms to increase their productivity and efficiency.

Advanced sensors can be placed in fields to monitor soil conditions. Wearable sensing technologies can be placed on livestock and monitor movement, collect health information and more. Agricultural professionals can also equip farming vehicles and equipment with sensors that provide their owners’ with information about their operation, fuel efficiency and maintenance needs.

Whatever kinds of information these sensors collect, they can send it over the internet to a central system where the farmer can view it on a tablet, smartphone or computer. Because of their internet connectivity, these sensors are part of the Internet of Things or IoT.

2. Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence and other technologies that can help to analyze large amounts of data will also be crucial to the farms of the future. Some forms of data that IoT sensors collect may not be in a useful format, or there may be so much data that a farmer couldn’t get any valuable insights from it. Artificial intelligence, or AI, can help solve these issues and unlock the usefulness of the data that agricultural sensors collect.

Artificial intelligence can identify patterns in data and alerts users to abnormalities. For instance, an AI program may be programmed to know what a healthy plant looks like, meaning it can identify when a plant is diseased. It could analyze energy data to help farms save money. The potential benefits for farms of improving energy efficiency are substantial since 15 percent of agricultural production costs in the U.S. are related to energy.

3. Robotics

Robots are not an entirely new addition to farms, but the robots entering the market today are much more advanced than those that came before them. The bots of the future promise to be even more impressive.

Robotics can increase the efficiency of farming operations and improve worker safety. It’s making an appearance in many different aspects of farming. One application is self-driving tractors. Farmers have been using GPS to help guide their tractors for some time, but recently companies have begun to introduce true self-driving tractors. These vehicles can follow routes pre-routed using GPS, plant seeds with extreme precision and test soil conditions as it goes.

Farms are also using robots for weeding, harvesting, pruning vines, herding cattle and milking cows. Many more applications are sure to emerge as the technology progresses.

4. Drones

Drones aren’t just for hobbyists anymore. Numerous industries are now using them, including agriculture. While you could consider drones a type of robot, they have many distinct qualities and provide some unique benefits to farmers.

In addition to high-quality cameras, drones can be equipped with various sensors including infrared, thermal, chemical and distance measuring sensors such as Lidar. Depending on the sensors attached to them, they can produce 3D maps of fields, measure moisture in different parts of the field or monitor crop health.

Drones can also launch pods containing seeds and nutrients into the soil and spray crops from above. They can perform these tasks in a precise fashion, following a predetermined pattern. Drone planting can decrease planting costs by around 85 percent, according to MIT Technology Review.

5. Blockchain

The blockchain is a way to track information that helps enhance transparency and accuracy. Data entered into the blockchain must be verified by all parts involved, and it’s then encrypted so that no one can change it. This technology can enable people to track food items as it moves from farms to the end consumer.

This capability can help to ensure that farmers get paid fairly, help find the sources of food-borne illnesses and reduce food waste. Having more detailed information about how much food is produced and consumed can help producers and distributors to grow, process and purchase the right amount of food so that fewer items go to waste. This could help distributors get food to where it needs to go, as opposed to having a lack of food in some areas and an excess in others.

6. 3D Printing

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing, can bring the ability to manufacture parts of entire products into the hands of the end consumer. For farmers, getting replacement parts for equipment can result in costly downtime. With a 3D printer, however, a farmer could print a replacement part right on the spot, dramatically reducing the amount of non-productive time.

Farmers could also 3D printers to quickly produce prototypes of new ideas they have for farm equipment. Additive manufacturing could also enable an extra source of incomes for farms that could sell 3D-printed products to neighboring farms or the agriculture sector at large.

Like with so many other sectors, today’s advanced technologies are revolutionizing the agriculture industry. The agriculture sector, though, faces some unique and intimidating challenges, and it’s crucial to the well-being of people all over the world that it overcomes them. Technology will play a critical role in enabling it to do that.

Author: Megan Ray Nicols (@nicholsrmegan) | Schooledbyscience.com

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